School’s out, now what?

If you had told me a week or two ago that I would be wracking my brain over whether or not to leave the UK six months into my degree, you would have got an unequivocal no from me. I still have so much to do right? A podcast to finish, two documentaries to shoot, concerts to attend, so much travelling to do here and in Europe.

But the situation has changed – drastically so and it still changing . So to put this all in context, I am studying towards my master’s degree in Digital Documentary at the University of Sussex. As the degree name suggests it is a practical heavy and intensive course which is exactly why I chose it. I wanted to sharpen and hone my skills behind a camera lens again and hopefully use what I had learnt to take my journalism career on a slightly different path, not a complete off-ramp, just an on-ramp to a different highway lets say.

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Our podcasting class in a practical session in the foley studio.

Anyway, my studies got underway last September with a slight disturbance at the end of November when academic staff went on strike for a week and a half, but other than that, all hunky-dory. We had access to a state of the art foley studio, photography and filming studio, edit suites and a fully kitted equipment store which we could take advantage of 24/7. The new term held the promise of building on what we had learnt, adding to our technical proficiency and hopefully producing work worthy of watching and listening to. My subjects this term are podcasting and short documentary and I was super excited to dig in, learn and grow. But three weeks in that enthusiasm was tempered with the announcement and commencement of another round of strikes – this time for four weeks. Luckily for one of my subjects, neither of my two tutors were striking so we continued to attend those classes when we could, on and off-campus. While all of this is happening the coronavirus infections in the UK are growing, slowly but steadily. But nothing is amiss, we all bought hand sanitizer, washed our hands and kept travelling, drinking and eating together.

Eventually the strike ends and the first day (last Monday) we are meant to resume classes, contact classes get cancelled for the rest of the academic year. As in the last time we were in class (weeks ago) was the last time I was seeing my classmates and tutors in person – wild. We get reassured that teaching will continue online and our assessments adjusted accordingly. My immediate thoughts were this is great, the government is finally taking the pandemic seriously, this is a good call. It’s not until a few days later when we are told we will no longer have access to the equipment store and labs we need to produce our practical assignments that my brain starts breaking. How is one to film without equipment? My phone, my own little DSLR? Surely not, that goes against the dream we were sold, the thing we came here for. I start to think of the ways in which it might be possible to record via Skype or phone for my podcast; try to think of a way – if any – that I can adjust the documentary projects I had in development. A day after that, people I know start talking about the practicalities of going home. At this point, two of my five roommates have fled to their home countries overnight. It still seemed rash, I felt confident in my “obvious” decision to stay.

A day after that development my scholarship sponsors assured us that they would help facilitate our exits from the UK if we so chose. Some universities have actively encouraged their international students to go home. That’s when I first began to even think that this was an option I would consider. But how in a critical phase of the pandemic here and in my home country? New infections were/are on the rise in both. Deaths were on the rise here. People weren’t all capable of practising social distancing at home. People are unwilling to practice it in some cases. I would be covered if anything happened to me here. I left my medical aid when I left home. I could make others sick in transit or at home. Oh shit, I would have to be on a plane on a train. I haven’t done a lick of work in weeks, will I be able to motivate myself to press on? Social distancing, cool cool cool. Why’s there no toilet paper at the shops? Wow, September is far. June is far. May is far. Can I do it, here? Where would I rather be stuck for the next few months?

These frantic thoughts have raced through my mind on a loop since Friday. I change my mind every hour on the hour, I feel like the window is closing to make and commit to a decision that I can live with. But I just don’t know. This is not about being homesick and just wanting to see my mom, I have to go back home at some point and I can’t imagine it’s going to get easier to try and do that. It’s an impossible choice and I’m going to get judged for it but it’s a choice I’m going to have to make.

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